Couple take landmark legal action over quake insurance

10:38 pm on 23 February 2013

A Christchurch couple is about to take their insurer to court over their earthquake damaged home, in what is being described as a landmark case.

Two years on from the 6.3 magnitude earthquake earthquake which shattered Christchurch on 22 February 2011, hundreds of homeowners have still not been able to move on with their lives.

The Insurance Council this week revealed just 400 insured homes have been rebuilt out of the 18,500 needing to be rebuilt or repaired.

Matt and Valerie O'Loughlin live in a residential red zone and, like many others, have been offered a payout based on what their home would cost to repair, even though they live in an area they will soon be forced to leave.

Valerie O'Loughlin says the insurance company is not not playing fair. "They're not honouring the policy we took out, we took out a maximum full replacement policy, not a 'oh look let's just repair it', even though they can't repair it. They would not get consent to repair on this land, it's all hypothetical."

After nearly two years fighting their insurers, the O'Loughlins have decided to take them to court in what is being described as a test case with consequences for hundreds of homeowners in red zones.

Matt O'Loughlin says he's terrified of the attention the case will bring them, but says they had no other option. "We haven't worked that hard for that long just to end up with a result like that ... not when you've insured yourself for 48 years against this scenario."

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme the insurance case is for the courts to decide, but said the Government did the best it could for red-zoned homeowners.

The minister defended government payout offers to owners in red zone areas. "I would find it very difficult for anyone to say that one of those offers is not to their advantage given that all of the value in those properties was stripped away by the earthquake events and nothing that any Government can do can change that."

'Slow progress'

A Christchurch-based lobby group blames slow repair and rebuilding progress on insurers failing to organise supply chains adequately.

David Stringer from Insurance Watch says insurers should have been organising contractors and materials while aftershocks were still plaguing the city so when they subsided, they were ready.

He says there's a risk thousands of Cantabrians will be forced to endure yet another winter in badly damaged homes.

The Insurance Council says many of its members have only been able to begin looking at claims in the past six months because of the ongoing aftershocks.

Resident positive despite challenges

Christchurch resident Maurice Gardiner not only lost his sister in the collapse of the CTV building on 22 February 2011 but has also had to cope with the loss of his father and his wife soon afterwards.

He says the 18 months his mother had to wait for progress on replacing her home, which was destroyed in the earthquake, has been tough.

"Just gone round and round in circles, engineers not wanting to sign off. The goalposts keep on moving."

As a former EQC assessor and now project manager for earthquake repairs, Mr Gardiner understands better than most the challenges involved in rebuilding homes on ground made unstable by the earthquakes.

He remains positive about the future, confident that more and more of the difficult land situations will be dealt with over the next 12 months.